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Health Management and Education

Health Management and Education

Asthma medications

What medications are used to treat asthma?

Medication can be classified as either maintenance (controller) or rescue.  Maintenance medicines are taken every day to control lung inflammation.  Rescue medicines are taken only when asthma symptoms worsen.

Maintenance (controller) medicines must be used on a regular schedule to work.

  • Inhaled steroids reduce the inflammation and hyperreactivity in the airways and are the most commonly used maintenance medicines. Examples are Advair, Flovent, Pulmicort, Azmacort, and QVAR  (note that these are a different kind of steroid than the controversial “anabolic steroids” used by some athletes).  
  • There are non-steroidal controller medicines, such as Severent, and Spiriva, which relax the airway muscles.
  • The third type of asthma controller medicine are leukotreine modifiers, which act by stopping the chemical reactions that cause bronchospasm and inflammation. Some examples of these are Singulair, Accolate, and Zyflo.

Rescue medicines quickly relax the airway muscles, reversing bronchospasm, which makes it easier to breathe. Albuterol and Xopenex are the most common rescue medications. They start working in less than five minutes and may last up to six hours.

Remember that maintenance medicines are used to help prevent asthma attacks, and rescue medicines are to treat them.  If you are using your rescue medicine more than twice a week, your asthma is not under control; you should schedule an appointment with your health provider to re-evaluate your condition.